For the Ireland of Ages Past, Go to the Far North

By John Yacobian
Special to
(First published in 2004)

When people tell me they are headed for Ireland, I always encourage them to go north, to see Derry, Donegal, and Antrim, and usually my advice is ignored. I suppose that is not entirely a bad thing, as these virtually untouched places remain beautiful because they are largely undiscovered.

(Right: The author at Donegal's Horn Head.)

Derry is a unique gem in Ireland, with a population of more than 100,000, the second-largest city in the north and the fourth largest in Ireland. Walking around the walls that surround the old city, at every turn you feel what has happened not only 30 years ago, but 300 years past.

Gazing from the walls, you can see that Derry is a beautiful hilly place, straddling the River Foyle. It has been an important port, the last piece of Irish soil many emigrants touched before boarding ships for America. Inside those walls is an interesting and fascinating centuries-old city that is intact and real. You can be confident that what you are seeing and feeling is not there for you the tourist, but just there. Derry is easy to navigate with enough to see for a weekend or more.


To the west of Derry is the place many consider to be the most beautiful in Ireland. I would say Donegal might be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Donegal is solitude, with beautiful, craggy mountains and steep cliffs dropping into the sea. There are quaint small towns punctuating the scenery, where you can find a pub with a pint and some Celtic music, but not much more.

(Left: Yacobian, top, and Francisco Najera on the steep steps going down to the Giant's Causeway in Antrim.)

The highlight in Ireland for me was Horn Head. This is not a gentle place, but where the sea and the land meet in a violent, emotional crash. Spectacular cliffs rise hundreds of feet, almost straight up, from the surface of the water. Directly under my feet lie a plush carpet of verdant green, grass, heather, and heath, interrupted by the outcropping of rocks and stones. All around me, nothing but nature set out in the most beautifully indescribable way.

If you are looking to be pampered, then Donegal, Derry, and Antrim are not for you. If you are looking for the real Ireland and are willing to work a little bit to find it, then head north and you will not be disappointed.

John Yacobian, producer for Grace Pictures' "An Unreliable Witness," traces his interest in Northern Ireland to his first journey there. His career as a journalist started in Albany, N.Y., where he worked as a news producer for WRGB, where he met Grace Pictures founder and "An Unreliable Witness" director Michael McHugh. John later worked in London as a producer for APTN and then in New York City as a producer for CBS News. 


The History of Derry City

Maps of Derry City

'Bloody Sunday': 30 Years Later, Still Seeking Answers

This feature was edited by Gerry Regan and produced by Joseph E. Gannon. Copyright © 2004 John Yacobian.

Views: 275

Tags: Antrim, Derry, Donegal, John Yacobian, Travel, Ulster

Comment by Claire Fullerton on June 16, 2016 at 12:08am

Thank you for this post, and I, too, am a fan of Donegal, as well as the small towns nearby. One of my favorite trips I ever took in Ireland was a leisurely five days exploring the region from Galway to Donegal. Unexpectedly, we came upon a music festival in Ballyshannon, that I'll never forget. And oh, the rugged Cliffside terrain in windswept Donegal. So glad you called this to mind in this post.


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